McCourt's wizardry staggers Inverness

Inverness CT 0 Celtic 1
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The Independent Football

There was finesse in the goal that Paddy McCourt scored to decide this game, but it is the resilience of the performance that Neil Lennon will cherish. Celtic were required to be combative just to survive the early boldness of an Inverness side intent on being forthright.

The Division One champions were bluntly effective in the opening stages, and a series of opportunities were created by a marauding Jonny Haynes on the right wing. The ambition was to rile Celtic. Lennon has already been exposed to the pressure that comes with being in charge of an Old Firm team, but his players displayed a fierce grit here.

Midway through the first half, they began to assert themselves, and Shaun Maloney should have scored when clean through on the Inverness goalkeeper Ryan Esson, but steered his shot off the upright. On the verge of half-time, Georgios Samaras saw a header blocked on the line by Nick Ross. Earlier, Adam Rooney clipped a volley wide, then Eric Odhiambo headed over, but once Celtic had imposed their authority on the game, it was Inverness who were obliged to be defiant.

They were mostly harassed, and the second half was dominated by Celtic. A series of chances were created, and Charlie Mulgrew's free-kick was tipped wide, then Joe Ledley drilled a shot straight at Esson. Inverness could not sustain any defiance, and McCourt's breakthrough seemed inevitable. Gathering the ball on the left, he drifted infield, jinked past three players, then steered a shot into the corner while falling over.

"It took a piece of individual brilliance to win the game, but that's what he's capable of," Lennon said. "We were wasteful, but the second-half performance was an improvement."

McCourt injured himself while colliding with a celebrating team-mate and looked dazed as he was substituted, but it was the Inverness defenders who had been startled. Ross Tokely cleared off the line from Marc-Antoine Fortuné, and the substitute James Forrest saw a fierce drive saved.

The scoreline did not alter, but the victory was emphatic.